One of the decade's worst hurricanes stormed through the Caribbean, mexico and Texas, damaging Church property and members' homes, but leaving members alive and thankful.
"Some of our members have lost their homes and other homes have sustained damage, but we do not have to lament the loss of even one member," said Bishop Samuel Avalos of the Mitras 2nd Ward, Monterrey Mexico Mitras Stake.Hurricane Gilbert, which began its week-long rampage in Jamaica on Sept. 12, killed at least 239 people, left tens of thousands homeless, and caused billions of dollars in damage.
Pres. Richard L. Brough of the Jamaicaa Kingston Mission reprted that, although it took several days to track down all the missionaries and members, as of Sept. 19, everyone had been located.
"Power and telephone lines were down for several days," he related. "There is some damage to Church property but it focuses on landscaping, not on the structure. There is also damage to members' homes, but most of that is roofs that have been blown away."
During the hurricane, meetinghouses in Jamaica were opened to area residents for shelter, although most chose to remain at home.
Meetinghouses were also opened to members and non-members in Mexico, where the storm headed next, said Elder Robert E. Wells, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy and president of the Mexico/Central America area. Hitting the southern Yacatan Peninsula first, Hurricane Gilbert battered the eastern shores of Mexico with winds up to 175 mph. The hurricane then moved northwest and caused $60 million in damage in Monterrey, Mexico, a d city about 110 miles south of the Texas border.
"We got both barrels down here," Elder Wells said. "We have about 1,500 members in the Yucatan Peninsula, but there have not been any reported injuries."
Several church members who were vacationing in Cancun on the Yucatan Peninsula sought shelter in the Cancun meetinghouse with area members, non0members and missionaries. "There were about 98 of us all together," said Robbin Logan of Salt Lake City, Utah, who was on vacation with her husband.
"I didn't think we'd ever get back home alive. Nobody knew anything and we had lost all radio contact with anyone. We didn't know if the hurricane had hit or if it was still coming."
After a night and day filled with howling winds and little sleep, a local priesthood leader gathered the Church members together.
"We were all frightened," Sister Logan said. "The chapel had an aluminum roof and all the other buildings in the area with aluminum roofs had had the roofs blown away. We had a litle service and we all knelt down and prayed. It was scary and most of the women were crying.
"One of the little Mexican children who knew English asked me if I was LDS. I answered 'Yes.' 'Well, don't you have any faith? Of course we're going to be OK.' There was no question in his mind that we would be protected."
Elder Wells said hurricanes and storms are not new to the area residents. "We've gone through these things before and we find that members and non-members alike who are in precarious housing know where to to go. The meetinghouses are known to be the strongest buildings around. the people pick up their bedding, head for the meetinghouses, sleep on the floors until the storm is over, and then wade back out to their homes through the mud."
Damage was more serious in Monterrey, where 30,000 of the city's 3 million residents were left homeless. However, although there has been confusion, "the members are all right," reported Juan A. Alvaradejo, director of
one operations for the area office. "There are some 40 members that are homeless and temporarily housed in the Matamoros Mexico and Monterrey Mexico Mitras stake centers."
Some mebers in the area have donated food, clothing and supplies, while other members have opened their homes to the homeless, said Alvaradejo. Many LDS families in the area had food and water storages and are living on these supplies, as well as sharing them with othres.
Welfare Department officials in Salt Lake City, Florida and Texas were in communication with the hurricane-hit areas throughout the storm and ready to send aid if needed. A "spearhead unit" (a trailer loaded with tents, food, water, and medical supplies) was sent to the San Antonio area, where some members from Brownsville (an area threatened by the hurricane) were staying in a stake center, according to Craig Robinson, an area storehouse manager in the North America Southwest area.
"We handed out 11 sleeping bags and fed some people down there," said Robinson, "but they've returned to their homes now. Everything seems to be in control."
"We really feel fortunate to not have the massive destruction and loss of lives that could have happened," said Russell Osmond, public communications director for the north America Southeast Area, which includes the Caribbean. "The priesthood leaders in all the areas were ery, very ready in accounting for every family and where they were before and after the storm hit."
Efforts to rebuild and repair homes are already beginning. "Priesthood leaders and missionaries are assisting in the relief efforts in Jamaica," reported Elder Brough.
And in Mexico, volunteers were eager to began rebuilding, said Bishop Avalos. "Wood and building materials have already been delivered and the members are enthusiastically beginning the repair jobs."